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A Year Into The Pandemic, Some Inland Empire Entrepreneurs See A “Glass Half Full”

We’re now a year into the pandemic, and while many businesses haven’t survived the intermittent public health lockdowns, some entrepreneurs here in the Inland Empire see a bright future for their businesses as those lockdowns begin to lift. KVCR’s Benjamin Purper caught up with some of those entrepreneurs and has this report.

Leo Castañeda owns ProTech Staffing Services, a recruiting and staffing company with offices in Riverside and Phoenix. The company mainly hires temporary personnel for manufacturing jobs, and they’ve been in business for 8 years now.

When the pandemic lockdowns began a year ago, Castañeda says, there were a lot of unknowns.

“We didn't really know how to navigate through the circumstances of a pandemic, people were scared, there was a huge aspect of not knowing what the next day looked like. And not having any control whatsoever, especially with shutdowns, who's essential, who's not essential, people being afraid of the virus and not wanting to go to work. So last year was a very interesting learning experience for the business and for us because we had to really understand what was happening in order for us to make better business decisions.”

The company transitioned to phone and virtual interviews for its staffers.

“Fast-forward to today, after a year, it seems we've positioned ourselves to ensure that we can sustain the business and grow the business in an efficient manner while ensuring that we have safe workplaces and making sure that people feel comfortable going to work. So that's been a key component for our success.”

Castañeda says while many businesses saw decline in revenue or had to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, his business actually grew.

“Interestingly enough, you know, we saw an increase in staffing, at least in our industry, because we have a lot of clients that are essential - food distribution companies, manufacturers. So our business essentially grew about 20% in 2020 versus 2019. So you scratch your head and you think wait, there's a pandemic, all these things are happening, but business is up 20% from 2019.”

Castañeda says the pandemic has changed the way he views himself as an entrepreneur.

“I look at always having control of my business and wanting to have control of my business and it was very, very humbling and eye-opening last year for me to find out and learn that I had zero control, especially with things that I couldn't control like shutdowns, or people getting sick from COVID, and not being able to have the resources that I needed to continue to grow the business. But I think now the way that I look at, the way that I operate and look at the business is more focused on ensuring that I set the parameters in place so that I can prepare for something like this in the future.”

Stan Liu is a business owner and president-elect of the Entrepreneurs Organization of the Inland Empire.

He says the pandemic has changed the way he views his work too.

“Being an entrepreneur, being a member of the EO Inland Empire, we learn from other entrepreneurs in how do we turn a difficult situation that we face to something positive, you know, one of the positives that comes in is when we do virtual remote work, we're able to connect with other entrepreneurs that are facing these issues globally and we share our best practices. So, we actually gain a lot more time in terms of work on solving problems as an entrepreneur through the pandemic.”

Liu says he got advice from his father about running a business in the time of a pandemic.

"What my dad tells me is there's always a way to solve a problem, you know, at that time it's hard to believe. But now it's one year later, I'm seeing and believing what he meant and what he said. I remember last year, it was March 13, and that was when everything shut down. Everything was doom and gloom, we did not know what to expect, so if I were to look at last year at this time, the glass was definitely half-empty. And this time of year, when we look at everything, things on paper are about the same, but it's so much brighter. So the glass is definitely half full.”